James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:08 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hope everyone had a restful and lovely Thanksgiving holiday. It’s good to see everybody.
A couple of things at the top before I turn it over.
The President and the First Lady were horrified to learn about the three college students of Palestinian descent, two of whom are American citizens, who were shot Saturday in Burlington, Vermont.
The President continues to receives updates from his team about the ongoing investigation. These students were taking part in a uniquely American tradition: gathering with family and loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving. They should be back in school with their classmates, not in a hospital room.
The President, the First Lady, and everyone here at the White House join Americans across the country in praying for their full recovery, and we send our deepest condolences to their families and the broader Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American communities.
While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: There is absolutely — absolutely no place for violence or hate in America.
No person should worry about being targeted while going about their daily lives.
And too — and far too many Americans know a family member injured or killed as a result of gun violence. We cannot and we will not accept that.
Our thanks go to the Burlington Police Department, the FBI,
AFT [ATF], and other law enforcement partners for their swift work identifying and arresting a suspect last night.
Now, on to the news of the day and what you’re going to hear from the President in a couple of hours. So, want to say a few words here about what the President has been doing to work low- — to work in lowering costs.
This holiday season, families are seeing lower prices on everyday items from gas to groceries. As holiday — as holiday shopping starts, shelves are stocked and prices — prices for toys, TVs, and used vehicles are all down from last year. And we just saw record Black Friday sales.
In a couple of hours, President Biden will announce 30 new actions to threten — to strengthen supply chains and make sure families get the products they need when they need them. That includes creating the Council on Supply Chain Resilience, invoking the Defense Production Act to mitigate drug shortages, making new investments in clean energy and our food systems, and improving supply chain monitoring.
These actions build on President Biden’s previous work to improve supply chains: signing an executive order to get goods moving again, establishing the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, and investing in our transportation and industry — industries of the future through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS Act, and Inflation Reduction Act.
This work helped unsnarl supply chains and lower inflation. On Thanksgiving 2021, more than 100 container ships were waiting to dock at U.S. ports. This Thanksgiving, it was just eight. And supply chain pressures have declined from record highs to a record low.
As the graph behind me shows, inflation has fallen as supply chain pressures have eased.
Republicans in Congress want to undo that progress by cutting investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, and also workers. That will offshore jobs and make our supply chains more vulnerable. And they want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid while providing giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.
Now, the President won’t let that happen. He’s lowering costs for hardworking families, not for millionaires and billionaires.
And finally, while we’re talking about lowering costs for American people, I also want to highlight the President’s work to bring down the costs of healthcare.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are working to rescind healthcare coverage for millions of Americans; gut coverage for preexisting conditions; restore insurance companies’ ability to kick you off your coverage if you get sick; throw Americans up to — to age 26 off their parents’ health plans — healthcare; charge women more than men; eliminate free mammograms and colon cancer screenings; slash Medicaid; and increase drug costs, all in the name of new tax welfare for wealthy special interests.
This tax wer- — tax welfare could further hurt people by expanding the deficit and worsening inflation.
This is unacceptable. We will not stand for this. We need to be asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so we can invest in lower costs for hardworking families, not selling how- — hardworking families out with higher costs — healthcare costs so the wealthy can gain a new tax windfall.
And with that, I have John Kirby here. The Admiral is here to give an update on what’s happening in the Middle East and take any other fo- — other foreign policy questions you may have.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine.
Good afternoon, everybody.
So, just right at the top, of course, we welcome the announcement just a little bit ago — I think in the last hour or so — by Qatar that the humanitarian pause in Gaza, now in its fourth day, will be extended for another two days through Thursday morning, Israel time. This humanization pause has already brought a halt to the fighting, together with a surge of humanitarian assistance.
Now, in order to extend the pause, Hamas has committed to releasing another 20 women and children over the next two days. We would, of course, hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages.
The President has been deeply engaged on this process throughout the Thanksgiving weekend. He spoke with the Amir of Qatar at a very critical moment to help resolve an impasse on the second day of the pause.
And then, yesterday, he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with a focus on working towards an extension of the pause — the extension that, fran- — quite frankly, we’re seeing today. His team then worked on that overnight and through the morning.
He was briefed this morning by the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, on the ongoing talks to extend the pause.
He and his entire national security team will obviously stay engaged on this over the coming days as we work to implement this extension of the original agreement, as well as efforts to extend the pause even from there.
Just a quick update on the figures. As of the morning of November 26th: Two hundred trucks were dispatched to the Rafah Crossing, and a hundred and thirty-seven trucks of supplies were offloaded by the United Nations reception point in Gaza, making it the biggest humanitarian convoy received since the 7th of October.
This brings the total number of trucks of aid and assistance, including fuel, to over 2,000 since the 21st of October. Our team has prioritized getting this much-needed relief into Gaza to allevi- — alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians there. Of course, most of them have nothing to do with Hamas.
And to date, we have assisted over 840 Americans and their families who have departed and sought the support of our team on the ground in Egypt.
And with that, I’ll take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.
Q Thank you, Admiral. A few things here. The President called conditional aid for Israel “a worthwhile thought.” Is he actually considering conditioning aid or not?
MR. KIRBY: What he also said, right after acknowledging that it was “a worthwhile thought,” was that the approach he has chosen to take so far has produced results and outcomes. Many of them I just walked you through in my opening statement.
So, the approach that we’re taking with Israel and, quite frankly, with our partners in the region is working. It’s getting aid in to people that need it. It’s getting a pause in the fighting. It’s getting hostages out. It’s getting Americans out.
And, quite frankly, we continue to urge and will continue to urge the Israelis, as they conduct military operations, to do so with the utmost care for innocent civilian life.
Q So, to Democrats in the par- — in his party who say we need to start conditioning aid going forward, what would he say then?
MR. KIRBY: I think he would say exactly what he said to you all yesterday when he got asked this question: “It’s a worthwhile thought, but the approach that I’m taking now is working; the approach that we’re taking now is working. It’s getting results.”
Q The increasing dangers to U.S. military personnel in the Gulf — I know you outlined in a series of appearances this morning what happened, but are we to continue seeing this sort of —
Well, let me put it this way: Is that strategy of dealing with it as it happens going to continue to be the strategy? You’ve seen some say there should perhaps be a more robust response to these ongoing attacks, whether it’s from Iranian-backed militias in Syria or Iraq, whether it’s the Houthis. Is the — is there any thought of changing up how that’s done?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think we’re going to get in the business of telegraphing our punches, Ed.
We’ve — we’ve responded forcefully against the threats to our forces in Iraq and Syria and now our forces in the Gulf region — in the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden. We’ll continue to do that as appropriate.
Q Is striking in Yemen still an option?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to telegraph punches.
We will take the steps appropriate to protect our troops and — and our forces in the Middle East region.
I would add that the Mason is attached to the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, which the President dispatched to the region specifically to address the increase in the tensions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Next question.
Q Any possibility that Americans will be among the 20 that will be released over the next few days?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope so. I mean, we’re going to watch this very, very closely. We’re certainly hoping that another batch of hostages gets released today as part of the fourth and final day of the original agreement. We’re going to be watching closely to see if any Americans are in that group.
As it — as it has come out over the last three days, we don’t really know until you get into the endgame who’s going to be actually on that list. And then, even then, you got to watch closely to — seeing if who’s on the list is the folks that actually come out. So, we’re watching and hoping.
Q And you spoke about the President’s conversation at a critical moment to break that impasse. Can you talk a little more about what that impasse was and how that was brokered in his conversations?
MR. KIRBY: I mean, it was really — it came down to — oh, you’re talking about over the weekend?
MR. KIRBY: It was really more about the lists and who was on it. And — and I don’t want to get into more detail than that.
It’s a similar issue to what we face today. The reason why there’s been a little bit of a delay — because there was a difference of a view, if you might, over the — the list and the fact that mothers were not originally going to be allowed to come out with their children. And that’s been resolved. So, it really had to do with the “who.”
Q And very quickly, the newly elected leader of Argentina says he’s coming to the U.S., also to D.C. Any meetings sche- — scheduled with administration officials, with the President, with anybody else while he’s here?
MR. KIRBY: Yes. President-elect Milei will be coming to Washington, D.C., largely to meet with the IMF over — and the World Bank — over — over their fiscal and economic issues.
But while he’s here in town, he’ll have a chance to meet with some National Security Council folks, including Jake Sullivan.
Q No plans to meet with the President or anything like that?
MR. KIRBY: No plans to meet with the President. The President will, as I think you know, will be on travel in the middle of the week.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.
Q Thank you. On the remaining Americans who are being held, do you have any more clarity on whether they’re being held by Hamas or with one of these other terrorist groups?
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q And, you know, all along, you’ve been very clear about concerns that a broader ceasefire would only benefit Hamas. Sullivan was pretty clear yesterday in saying that, you know, Hamas has been able to gain some benefit from this. How concerned are you that the longer this truce lasts — now six days — that Hamas will benefit? And how do you weigh that?
MR. KIRBY: It’s a real risk. You have to expect a group like Hamas — a terrorist group, which clearly doesn’t abide by the laws of war — will try to take advantage of any pause in the fighting for their own benefit. So, we’re watching that closely, as well as our Israeli counterparts. You can — you can bet that they’re watching that closely.
But — and I don’t want to speak for the Israelis — but, I mean, this is a calculated risk that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his War Cabinet are willing to take in order to get those hostages out. So, it’s a — it’s a balance.
And as you’ve also heard the Israeli say, that once the pauses are over, they intend to go right back at military operations.
Q And when you say that, you know, Hamas has been able to get some benefits so far, is that restocking, resupplying? What does that benefit look like now?
MR. KIRBY: It’s — you know, I would just say that — without getting into intelligence issues — that any pause in the fighting could benefit your enemy in terms of time to refit, to rest your fighters, to rearm them, re-equip them. You know, a pause in the fighting can — can be seen as a benefit.
But, I — again, I want to stress, and this was always part of the calculus — any discussion of pauses was always part of the calculus that — that Hamas might try to benefit from it.
But so too have the Israeli people benefited by the return of — of their loved ones and hostages. So too have the American people benefited now, with little Abigail back with her family. So, again, it’s a balance.
And, again, I won’t speak for the Israeli Defense Forces, but when — but when they have — when these pauses are over, then they have made it very clear that they’re going to continue to target Hamas leadership.
Q John, how many Americans are still being held hostage? And do you have proof of life?
We think the number is — well, it’s less than ten. Probably in the neighborhood of, you know, about eight to nine. But we don’t necessarily have firm, solid information on each and every one of them.
Q And why haven’t the two American women who are with the — with Abigail — what happened with them? Why haven’t they been released?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope that we’ll see them in — in — hopefully today. And if not today, certainly over the next couple of days. We want to see them back with their families where they belong as well.
The — the lists are developed by Hamas. And then, of course, there’s — the Israelis develop their list of Palestinian prisoners that they’re going to release.
So, we’re not involved in the specific drafting of the lists and the determination on Hamas’s side of who’s going to come out on any given day.
Obviously, we want to see those two American women released as soon as possible.
Q And the truce being extended two days — what happens now? Do you want to get, like, three days next or a permanent truce? What — what’s the thinking?
MR. KIRBY: It’s like I said in my opening statement, Steve: We’re grateful that we’ve got an extra two days to work with here. That’ll — that’ll result in the release of 20 more individuals — women and children.
And as I said right at the top, we’d certainly like to see even that extension extended further until all the hostages are released.
That’s really the goal here: Get all the hostages home with their families where they belong. And we, you know — however — however long that could take.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you. Just to follow up on the question about a Milei visit in Washington. You mentioned that most of his meetings would be with the IMF, but who will be — he meeting at the White House, at the NSC? And what are the expectations of the White House for this meeting?
And more broadly, what are the expectations of the President for the relationship between the two nations?
MR. KIRBY: I already answered that question. He is going to be — he’ll have a chance to meet with Jake Sullivan and potentially other folks here at the Nat- — NSC. We’ll have to see how that shakes out.
The President won’t, unfortunately, be able to meet with him because of domestic travel.
But obviously, we want to continue to look for ways to cooperate with Argentina. Argentina is a — a healthy and vibrant partner in this hemisphere on many, many issues.
And so, we’re looking forward to obviously hearing what the president-elect’s ideas are and where he wants to go on policy issues and making sure that we have a chance to keep that line of channel — that channel of communication open.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: April.
Q John, I want to go to — to Africa and the Congo, if you will. Updates after the visit from DNI — the DNI head, national security, and State.
And also maybe connecting this with the President’s meeting with the president of Angola on trade — the deals with the Congo and Zambia. Is that playing a part in also trying to stabilize the frictions there to try to quell all the violence there?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t really have an update for you on the Congo, April. The President is looking forward to meeting with the president of Angola later this week — on Thursday. There’s a — certainly a wide range of issues to discuss in terms of our bilateral relations and the situation on the continent.
I won’t get too far ahead of that meeting, but he’s looking forward to that.
And I — I will take your question back on — specifically on the Congo. I just don’t have an update for you.
Q Well, and specifically on the Congo — because there are a lot of people out here trying to find out what’s going on, especially as one of the worst humanitarian crisis that has been reported in Africa and all over the world. People are looking for more information on that one as well, please.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, no, I — I understand. Let me — let me take your question.
Q Thank you.
Q Can I follow up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. John, can you give us a little more details on this upcoming visit of President Lourenço? Is President Biden excited to receive President Lourenço? And what more can we expect from this meeting between Joe Biden and President Lourenço?
MR. KIRBY: Angola is a strategic partner and a growing global voice on issues of peace and security. The President is grateful to Angola for their principled voice, in terms of the conflict in Ukraine and the role that President Lourenço is playing to advance solutions to conflicts there as well.
Angola and the United States are expanding our economic cooperation at record speed, including pursuing additional investments through the President’s flagship Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment to build quality, sustainable infrastructure that helps connect Angola to global markets. So there’ll be a lot of that on the agenda.
Q And will the President travel to Africa this year, as he promised during the —
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any —
Q — summit?
MR. KIRBY: — travel to speak to today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Danny.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Admiral. Just going back to the extension of the truce, is there any chance — is there any chance that it could be, you know, further extended? Or do you think it — is it inevitable that, you know, hostilities are going to resume, do you think?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we certainly want to see it extended. As I said right at the o- — opening, we — we’re going to keep working for an extension to the pause again. Absolutely that’s what we want. We want to see all the hostages out, and this is the best way to get them out.
Q Do you think — are you — do you think — are you — you know, are you — do you think there’s any chance that Israel may decide not to — that there’s any chance that they may halt the offense — their offensive? Or —
MR. KIRBY: The Israelis have been pretty clear that once the pauses are complete and the hostage exchanges are over that they intend to continue their military operations against Hamas.
Q John, what has the U.S. learned about how the now-returned hostages were treated in captivity?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know that we have a lot of specific information about all of them. Remember, Abigail is the only American citizen of the ones that have been released. I think they’re all — the main priority is to get them the medical care that they need — we have to assume that they have medical needs, all of them in some form or fashion — and then getting a chance to get reunited with their families.
And then I think, at some point, Israeli officials will start to ask them in from — about information about their captivity. And — and — but I would leave it to these individuals and the Israeli government to speak to what that look like.
I — I think it’s a safe assumption — I mean, they — they were taken against their will and in violent circumstances — that this had to have been a harrowing experience for them. And — and we also have to assume that the conditions in which they were being held was — were obviously less than ideal, given — you know, given what Hamas has proven capable of doing.
But I just don’t have a whole lot of specific information on each and every one.
I think it’s important to also remember that Hamas likely doesn’t hold each and every one, and so being held by Hamas — probably, they had hostages in more than one location. And there’s other groups that may be holding some of these hostages as well. And the conditions could be — could be starkly different. We just — we just don’t know enough right now.
Q And how should we be thinking about the numbers? The original agreement was for 50 women and children, and now we expect two more days. But on certain days, they’ve been releasing more than 10 at a time, so we’re up to something like 58.
MR. KIRBY: Well, right. I mean, remember, you had — you had 50 —
Q Different (inaudible).
MR. KIRBY: — 50-plus coming out was the original deal. It wasn’t just — I think it was a little bit more than 50 was what they agreed to. And if you got four days to do that, you’re going to have to do more than 10 per day to do — to do the — to do it. And so, we’re hoping for a list today that will have somewhere in the neighborhood of about 13 — is what we’re hoping for today.
So, that’s just — you know, that’s just basic math: trying to do 50 in four days.
The extension is for an additional 20 over two days. And so, we’ll see how that shakes out.
Q And then, finally, what does the two-day extension mean for getting more aid into Gaza? And what will you — what will the U.S. be able to help facilitate —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — in terms of that — those 48 hours?
MR. KIRBY: It’s a great question. With every single day — and this is the part of this hostage deal that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves — it has allowed for a surge of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. I just gave you the numbers today: 200 trucks just today. And that brings — again, since the 21st, it gives a total of over 2,000, including fuel. And that’s not insignificant — that fuel is now getting in tens of thousands of gallons per day.
So, in anoth- — another two days, I mean, my goodness, that gives you the chance for dozens more trucks and tens of thousands of more gallons of fuel that can get into Gaza to people in need. So, it’s — we’re going to take advantage of every hour of every day that there’s a pause to try to help the people of Gaza.
Q Thanks. John, can you talk a little bit about how the President’s involvement in all this has impacted other priorities? Thinking about COP28, reports that he’s not going. Would he have gone had he not been needing to deal with this?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen some press reporting on that. I’m — I don’t have anything to speak to with respect to travel to COP.
Look, yes, the President has been very much focused on the conflict between Israel and Hamas over the last month or so. Clearly — I mean, well, more than a month. Obviously.
And as I said in my opening statement, he was working the phones over the course of Thanksgiving weekend. And I suspect that he’ll continue to work the phones in coming days. Without question.
But at the same time, he — he’s also working across a range of issues. I mean, Karine just laid out for you what he’s doing on the economic front here at home. And in the middle of meeting with President Xi in San Francisco, he was also calling the Amir of Qatar and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the — didn’t — didn’t stop him from dealing with issues of Indo-Pacific security. He’s the Commander-in-Chief, which means he has global responsibilities, and the President is more than capable of handling them on any given day.
Q May I also ask how the concerns here domestically and the calls for a ceasefire, the anger about violence has impacted the President’s discussions this last — these last few days?
And also, like, how ha- — and how does he hope and how does the administration hope the pause and the extra trucks that are coming in that you’re talking about, does he hope that that will quell some of the anger? Does the administration hope that will quell the anger, ease some of the pain that the country is feeling?
MR. KIRBY: The President understands that there’s strong feelings here on multiple sides. He understands, and he respects that — that there is — there is strong feelings.
He also believes right down to his core that the approach we’ve been taking has been getting results. It has — obviously, it has helped enable Israel to deal with what is, quite frankly, a genocidal threat to their existence by Hamas by giving them some additional security assistance and, quite frankly, sharing with them our perspectives and advice and counsel on the conduct of military operations — to do so in a way that is as careful and deliberate as possible, obviously, with the acknowledgement that these are their operations to plan and execute and speak to.
At the same time, he has literally led — personally led an incredible surge of humanitarian assistance. No other nation but the United States and no other leader but Joe Biden has done as much. Now, I always say — I say that with full acknowledgement that we couldn’t have done this without the assistance of partners: the Amir of Qatar, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Sisi of Egypt, thr- — and King Abdullah of Jordan. A lot of help on the ground; I don’t mean to discount that.
But the President has been in a personal leadership role here in terms of getting humanitarian assistance in. And we have been able to get now much more over the last few days than we were even in the last couple of weeks, as well as the removal of — of individuals out of Gaza and out of harm’s way: 850 Americans, as well as hundreds of others from other countries, and, of course, all these hostages that we’re now seeing. All of that is the result of a lot of personal leadership and involvement and engagement by President Biden. No question about that.
I mean, even the Prime Minister’s office said, as recently as today, how critical President Biden’s leadership has been.
So, as long as our approach is getting results, I think you can expect that the President is going to continue to follow that approach.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: A couple more. Go ahead.
Q In his conversations with his counterparts, has the President received any reassurances that the two American women will be released today, and if not today, in the next two days?
MR. KIRBY: We hope that they will be released today. But we won’t know until we see the list and we see who comes — actually comes across. We want to get — we want to get them released right away.
Q When do you expect to see the list, and are there any holdups that you are still working through now?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any other addit- — additional holdups now that — the one sticking point was whether two mothers could come out with their children. It looks like that has been resolved, and they will be. I mean, my goodness. I mean, we’re talking about letting little kids go without their moms.
So, that got resolved. And that’s a good thing.
But, again, we’ll have to see. We won’t really know who comes out, regardless of the list itself, until you actually get them on the other side — on the receiving end and can identify them and know, in fact, that who you have is who you thought you would have.
Q Do you have any information on the conditions of the other American hostages?
MR. KIRBY: No. I think Steve asked that question. I don’t have any more information.
Q And lastly, have negotiations started about the next phase of the release? And that would include men.
MR. KIRBY: Well, right now, we’re focused on this extension here for 20 more hostages over the course of two days. And as I said in my opening statement, that extension applies only to women and children. So, we’re going to focus this a piece at a time.
We’re — we’re glad that we got to day four here. We won’t breathe a sigh of relief until we know we’ve got today’s hostages out. And the team is already working — our team working with our partners in the region — already working on this two-day extension for 20 more.
And as I said at — at the top, if we can extend that, we’ll keep ex- — we’ll — we’ll want to see it keep extending until we can get all the hostages out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Admiral, we’re seeing that Saudi Arabia is pressuring other OPEC+ members to reinstate those oil supply cuts. Wondering what your level of concern is and what you see as the impact on inflation in the U.S.
MR. KIRBY: Well, I think I’ll let OPEC leaders talk to their — their plans.
And as far as I know, there’s been no announcements here of any production cuts. So, we’ll — we’ll let them speak to that.
The President is going to keep focusing, as he has been, on a healthy global market that’s properly balanced and that can continue to bring the price of gasoline down here in the United States.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Anita.
Q Thank you so much, John. CENTCOM is reporting that the Carrier Strike Group Eisenhower has entered the Arabian Gulf. What message is Washington trying to send to Tehran was this — with this? Does this mean that they’re not heeding the call to not widen the conflict?
MR. KIRBY: The great thing about aircraft carriers is they can move around pretty — pretty easily. And we move them around as needed to demonstrate our commitment to our national security interests in the region.
Look, the message of the Ike and the message of the Ford, the message of the additional aircraft squadrons that we sent into the region and the — and the air and missile defense assets — all of that is one to any actor in the region — be it a nation-state or otherwise — that this is not a time to try to take advantage of the conflict between Israel and Ha- — Hamas and escalate or deepen this conflict, make it worse. That’s the message that we’re sending.
Q Is this targeted at Iran?
MR. KIRBY: It is targeted at any actor in the region — nation-state or otherwise — that might have considerations of widening this conflict.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jon.
Q Thanks a lot, Karine.
John, in your statement at the top, you thanked the government of Qatar for this two-day pause that has been reached. What level of involvement was the U.S. government in securing this agreement?
MR. KIRBY: Very much so. I also mentioned in my opening statement that President Biden has been personally involved in getting the original deal in place and loosening up a snag that happened over the weekend, as well as working with partners — Qatar and Israel, specifically — in the last 24 to 48 hours to get this extension announced.
Q Congress comes back tomorrow. What’s the priority level for securing those aid packages for both Israel and Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: Very, very high, Jon. I mean, we desperately need the supplemental funding that the President asked for.
And I would remind members of Congress as they come back to work that the figures in that supplemental request are well informed by our Ukrainian partners and our Israeli partners. We didn’t just pull those figures out of thin air. It was very much in keeping with what our partners have told us they need for the coming months.
And in both cases, the runway keeps getting shorter and shorter. You’ve seen that in the case of Ukraine. The — the drawdown packages that we’ve been providing are now at smaller increments in terms of how much money is being allocated because we just don’t have the flexibility that we once had in terms of the amount of aid that can be given in each and every package.
And, look, we’re in — we’re in a critical time here. Winter months are upon us. They’re on — they’re upon the Ukrainian Army, particularly. And it’s — it’s going to be tougher and tougher for them to conduct operations when the weather gets less conducive to do so.
So, we — we hope that when Congress comes back to work, that they will — they will act with the same sense of alacrity that we’ve been trying to act in terms of getting that supplemental through.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nadia, go ahead.
Q Thank you. There was reports saying that the President said that he’s sorry and he’s disappointed in himself after meeting with the Muslim leaders. Do you think that the President could have done more to show sympathy towards Palestinian civilians \(inaudible) being seen as even-handed?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to discuss reports of private meetings. As I said earlier, the President understands there is strong feelings here on all sides. And as he’s also said publicly, he doesn’t want to see any more innocent civilians killed or wounded as a result of the fighting in Gaza — not one. I mean, the right number of civilian casualties is zero.
We understand there have been many, many thousands of them. And we understand that with each and every one of those data points is a grieving family. We — the President understands that.
And that’s why we’re going to continue to urge our Israeli counterparts, as they go back — or they plan to go back to military operations, that they do it in the most discreet, deliberate, careful, cautious way possible.
Q Also, the declared aim of this war by the Israelis is to — to destroy Hamas and to kill its leaders. One of its leaders is Yahya Sinwar. He is the guy who signs on the hostage deal. Can you ex- —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I know who he is.
Q Can you explain — can you explain this complexity of, on one hand, Israel wanted him dead, but, at the same time, he is the one who decide how many hostages going to be released? I mean, just help us to understand how complex is that?
And is this a way to — is this, like, a strategy to keep — from Hamas to keep on releasing less hostages on the hope that he won’t be targeted, will be allowed to stay alive?
MR. KIRBY: Well, you’re asking me to kind of get into the psychology of Hamas, and I’m just not going to do that.
What I can tell you is that the Israelis have a right and a responsibility to go after this threat posed by Hamas and, certainly, as a part of doing that, to go after their leadership, which they have done. And they have talked about the leadership that they have been able to take off the battlefield of Hamas.
It’s a strategy that we executed ourselves against ISIS and against al Qaeda. And, you know, there’s a — there’s a logic to going after the leadership of a network.
MR. KIRBY: But — but in the meantime, there are Hamas political leaders that — that Qatar has connections with and communications with that — that we’re — that they are working with to secure the release of these hostages.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Last question.
Q Thanks, Karine.
Just to follow up on the “worthwhile thought” remark that the President made, I understand he also said he’s standing by his approach. But was he saying that he’s open to conditioning aid in the future as well, given that this is something he described in that way?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of the President on this. I think he was very clear. Yes, it’s a worthwhile fight. He acknowledged that.
But he also said in the same breath that the approach that we’ve been taking thus far has produced outcomes and results that have not only benefited the Israeli people in terms of their security, but the people of Gaza in terms of humanitarian assistance and — and the release of so many Americans now just to walk out through — through the Rafah Crossing.
So, we’re going to keep — we’re going to keep working on those approaches — on results-based approaches.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Admiral. Thank you so —
Q Quick question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much. Thanks, Admiral. Sorry, guys. We’re running out of time.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Chris, do you want to —
Q Yeah, I just wanted to see if have any update the supplemental funding conversations right now. How are the negotiations going? You know, when do you — when you’ll see resolution on this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I certainly don’t have an update. That is — conversations obviously are happening on the Hill on the supplemental funding. I think you just heard that it — it’s a priority for us, both the domestic and also the national security. We’ve made very clear that those are emergency asks that we have, that we put for- — in front of Congress. And so, we’re going to continue to make that very clear. I just don’t have any updates for you at this time.
Q And you started the briefing by talking about the shooting of the three men in Vermont. The White House has started, you know, efforts to fight antisemitism, Islamophobia. And what more can you say about those efforts given that we’re continuing to see, you know, allegations of hate crimes pop up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it’s a great question. And — and what we’re seeing — these hate crimes popping up is — is very concerning, obviously, to us. And this is something that the President, from very early of his administration, has taken on. When you think about — and when you think about groups who are under attack — and the President has said, “It is unacceptable.” “It is unacceptable.” People should be able to live their lives, as I said at the top.
And so, we’ve taken a number of actions — this administration — recently to address the alarming rise of reported antisemitism and also Islamophobia.
And we’ve talked about it over the past couple of weeks, but, in recent months, DOJ published an updated Threat Response Guide from the FBI aimed at telling people what steps to take if they receive a threat.
The Department of Education released new resource aimed at addressing antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses. And that is also for not just college campuses, but from P-to-12 schools as well. We also established the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia. And earlier this year, we released a National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
So, this remains a top priority for this President. And we will do everything that we can so that — so that Americans who — feel safe in their communities and are not under attack.
Q Can I follow up, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just going to continue to go around. Go ahead.
Q Is the White House open to attaching any border policy changes to a supplemental to get it passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to negotiate from here. We’ve made very clear that our request — our supplemental request, as it relates to national security — how important it is and why we think it’s important. And we’ve laid that out, had conversations with members of Congress.
Obviously, there was H.R. 2 that was — that was introduced by Hou- — the House, and we said we were — we did not agree with that. And Senate Republicans put forth a similar — I think, exactly the same proposal. We did not agree with that.
As it relates to negotiations that are currently happening in Senate, with senators — right? — both Republicans and Democrats, we’re just not going to negotiate from here.
Q But is it a nonstarter? Would the White House not even entertain a border —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m —
Q — policy change?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to get into negotiating from the podium.
Q On the climate summit. The President attended COP in 2021 and 2022. Why not attend this year? And if he’s not attending, will he be participating in some other form, like attending virtually?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, don’t have anything more to add to what the Admiral said at the podium as it relates to COP28.
What I will say is that we’re going to have a robust representation, obviously, and we expect to have a productive — it’ll be productive. So, we’ll have Special Envoy John Kerry, National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, and Senior Advisor John Podesta, among others. We’ll continue to build on the administration’s historic actions to tackle the climate crisis.
President Biden, as you all know — you’ve heard us say this over and over again — we believe, led and has delivered the most ambitious climate agenda in history, both at home and off — obviously, abroad. And we believe — we’ve been doing this since day one.
So, he’s secured the largest climate investment ever, putting the U.S. on path to cut climate pollution in half by 2030, which is something we believe that we are on track on doing; protecting more than 20 million — 21 million acres of public lands and waters. And so, he’s going to continue to rally not just world leaders, but obviously rally here as well and make sure that we put — put climate — climate — his climate ambition actions in the forefront.
I just don’t have any travel updates to announce at this time.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Do you have details of the Carter event tomorrow? Will the President make remarks? Will he see Jimmy Carter?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I do have a couple of things to say about that. As you know, the President and the First Lady and the Vice President and the Second Gentleman are going to be attending tomorrow — the — the event tomorrow.
So, as it relates to what the President is going to be doing, so, certainly, we’re going to refer you to — to the Carter Center and the Carter family for specific details on the tribute service they have planned for the former First lady, Rosalynn Carter. The President and the First Lady, obviously, will — will not be delivering remarks. So, we’ll — but as to anybody else speaking, we would refer you to — certainly to — to the Carter Center.
Look, and as — if the — the former president is going to be in attendance, again, we refer you to the Carter Center.
But the President and the First Lady certainly look forward to — to being there and to offering — you know, offering their condolences and participating in the event by attending.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President spoke yesterday with members of Abigail Edan’s family. Can you tell us what that conversation was like for him?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you heard from — from my NSC colleague, the Admiral, about — and you heard from the President — you heard from the President yesterday — speak to — to the importance of getting Abigail home — as you know, she’s — she celebrated her fourth birthday while she was in captivity — and how important he believed it was to get her home, but also the American hostages who were being held and also the American hostages who were being held more broadly, globally. And — and you’ve seen the President’s commitment to that since day one.
I’m not going to get into private conversations from here. I think they — the family — her family has put out — have done interviews, and there’s been some, you know, pretty emotional quotes from the family.
Just not going to get into that. But it is the President’s priority. It is incredibly important for the President to get these Americans home.
Q And what is the communication like right now between the White House or the administration and the families of the other Americans who are being held hostage? We know the President had that conversation —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — weeks ago. Has he had another follow-up to that conversation? Is it daily between senior officials? What’s that like?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — a rhythm to call out of — of the amount of times that my colleagues at NSC or the State Department have had conversations with the families of — of the hostages. Obviously, we’ve — we’ve — I think the last time Jake Sullivan was here, he talked — he spoke to it. Obviously, you heard the President. We’ve read out the President’s calls. I just don’t have anything to share at this time on any additional conversations.
But, again, it is the President’s priority to get — to get home the hostages, especially the — obviously, the American hostages, which is why these pauses have been so important to get humanitarian aid in — obviously, to the people of Gaza, but also making sure that these hostages go back to their families and friends who love them dearly and are missing them.
Q Karine, the supply chain announcements today are rooted in all the issues that came up back in 2020, 2021, when a lot of it was rooted in shipping and holiday shopping and whatnot.
I’m curious, does the President or First Lady do any online shopping? Have they had any —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)
Q No, seriously. Have they had any personal experience with the frustrations that American consumers across the country felt in recent years?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, agreed, there’s been some frustrations that obviously — that the American consumers have felt recently, which is why we took those actions. You just listed them out. And they’ve had — they’ve been beneficial.
I’ve talked about the containers — where we were two years ago, where 100 containers were decl- –were declined, and now we’re at 8. Right? We talked about — I talked about October 2021, as you just mentioned, to October ‘23 and how supply chain pressures — how they m- — how much they — they hurt the economy, which is why the President continues to make these announcements. This is what you’re going to hear from the President at two o’clock.
Look, I can’t speak to the President or the First Lady’s shopping strategy, how they go about it, but they understand what Americans are feeling. That’s — again, that’s why we keep talking about lowering costs. That’s why we’re talking about something that’s so important, like supply chain, as it affects the economy.
But, look, what we believe is the President’s action — what he’s taking — the actions that he’s taken has worked — has worked. And we see that with the holiday season — right? — with families and — and how we’ve seen lower prices coming down.
Q So, no word if he’s shopping at Amazon or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Well, I can say this.
Q — Chewy for Commander or anything like that? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I could say this: You saw the President on Saturday — right? —
Q Shopping at small businesses.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — on Friday, small business —
Q That’s why I asked about online shopping.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But how important it is, right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Shopping for — making sure that — you know, small businesses are an important part of the economy. And you saw the President, the First Lady, and his — his family making sure that they were visiting small business on — going into the holidays.
Q And I suspect if we polled the room, many of us were probably asked some version of the following question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q Given the President’s sagging poll numbers and the fact that he is currently placing behind any Republican opponent, has there been any talk in this White House about a change in strategy or staffing going forward in reflection of those numbers that continue to show him underwater?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q And there was also a call out in recent weeks to staff, to senior officials that if you want to go by the end of the year, go; otherwise, you’re here for the duration of the rest of the term. Is there — has — should we be anticipating any departures of either Cabinet officials or other senior officials?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I can’t speak to people’s personal decisions. I just don’t — we don’t have anything to announce at this time. And, you know, we’re going to continue to do the work that the President set out to do.
And we just talked about supply chains. We just talked about the economy. We’ve been talking about the President’s leadership globally, especially in the Middle East. That’s what we’re here to do and focus on. That’s what I’m here to do and focus on. I just can’t speak to people’s decisions.
Q Karine, I had an in-depth conversation with Stevie Wonder last night, who is — (laughter) —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I love Stevie Wonder.
Q Again, but the serious question. I had an in-depth conversation with Stevie Wonder last night, who is asking –requesting —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q — a meeting with the President. He’s very concerned about the Black agenda falling along the wayside and issues like laws of 50 years ago that are now being abolished or gutted to include issues like the Voting Rights Act, what happened in Arkansas last week; affirmative action — Supreme Court, as we’ve seen it; ban on books; and he’s also even brought up issues of the Congo and the lack of information from the White House.
Is the White House amenable to sitting down with Stevie Wonder, who has met with presidents throughout history, to include Ronald Reagan?
He was one of the major impetus for getting the holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And also, he was one of those who worked with President Obama in his efforts to become president. Is this President amenable to meeting with Stevie Wonder, who has these concerns?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And you’re right, April. What you just laid out in your question is incredibly important. And so, we take that very, very seriously here.
Can I just say a couple of things about Stevie Wonder? He is an — indeed, an icon, who has made tremendous, tremendous contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and also voting rights. And as you just listed out, he was one of the main — main voices in getting Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and we appreciate that. We appreciate his brilliance. And we certainly — we appreciate what he’s been able to do on behalf of the community.
So, I can’t — as far as a meeting with the President, certainly, I’m not aware of any meetings with — with Mr. Wonder or any scheduled meetings. And I don’t have anything to announce, obviously, at this time.
But I also want to say that on the President’s first day in this administration, he has taken this very seriously as it relates to what we’re seeing w- — as it relates to racial inequality. He called it one of the four major crises that we — we have to deal with as a country when he stepped into — stepped into office.
And one of the things that you know, and I know you’ve covered this very closely, he signed an executive order to initiate — initiate a whole-of-government approach to implementing this — his equity agenda.
And a couple of things that he did: He worked to protect the right to vote through executive actions and continued to — call for legislation; took executive actions on police reform when congressional Republicans would not sign the George Floyd Justice Policing Act.
And so, he’s taken actions to make sure that — that we are protecting the right to vote. He spoke to the affirmative action, what we saw SCOTUS do, and he spoke to that. And he said, and I’ll quote, “We should never allow the country to walk away from the dream upon which it was founded. The opportunity is for everyone, not just a few.” And he stands by those words.
Q A follow-up on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
Q But Stevie Wonder is not alone in this thought.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Obviously, yeah, yeah.
Q He’s not alone in this thought. He’s very upset. And he — he’s even looking at this — this issue of reporting Black males. I mean, he just wants to have a conversation with the — is the President amenable, as he is a leader, as he has met with other presidents on major issues of rights — humanitarian rights, as well as civil rights?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And, look, you’re right. It’s not just an issue that Mr. — Mr. Stevie Wonder has. Right? As you — as you know, we’ve met will — with Civil Rights leaders multiple times — he President himself, the Vice President as well — and have sat in rooms listening to them and listening to their concerns and also taking their — taking in their feedback.
So, we’ve taken this very seriously — very seriously. That’s why we’ve taken the actions that we’ve had throughout the past almost three years in this administration. That’s why we’re going to continue to be vocal about the importance of making sure that we keep an op- — a door of opportunity for communities. That’s why when you think about his economy, what he’s put forth on his agenda and policy — when you think about all the policies that he’s put forth, there’s always been equity at the center of that.
So, this is something he takes seriously. Again, I don’t have anything to share about a meeting with Mr. Stevie Wonder. But obviously, this is something that both the President, the Vice President, and also the First Lady takes incredibly seriously.
And you see that. You see that in the actions that we have taken, whether it’s policy actions, whether it’s speaking out and speaking up about what we’re seeing from Republicans — extreme Republicans on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue and what they are trying to do in taking away voting rights or what we’ve seen from the Supreme Court Justice in taking away — taking away, certainly, affirmative action, which we think is incredibly important. And we’ll — we’re going to continue to speak to that.
Q Thank you for taking the question seriously.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine. On lowering prices. You said earlier that the actions the President has taken have worked. So, is it your sense that when people were home for Thanksgiving catching up with their family members, they were saying to each other, “Can you believe how much more affordable things have gotten?”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, honestly, I wouldn’t — I hear the question, but I want to make sure this is very clear. We take that very seriously. We take what families — families, the decisions that they make at their kitchen table, whether it’s at — whether it’s during Thanksgiving or whether it is every month as they’re trying to make hard decisions about how they move forward with taking care of their family, we take that very seriously. It’s not a joke to us. It is important to us.
This is a President who talks about it in a very personal way when he talks about what — what families have to go through — working families, middle-class families. And that’s why he’s taken the actions that he has.
And so, look, the fact is, the data shows that the economy is improving. The data shows that households remain in a strong financial position. Household wealth is — is at a record high, with lower-income households seeing the largest gains since the pandemic. Those are indeed what we’re seeing.
But we don’t — we don’t take lightly — we act- — we do not take lightly what Americans and families continue to feel. That’s why the President, at two o’clock, is going to talk about what — the actions that he’s taking to continue to lower costs.
Q But why do you think it is that when you say the economy is improving and President Biden says the economy is improving that a majority of Americans outside of this building are not buying it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s the thing. When we walked into this administration, the economy was on a tailstin — a tailspin — that is the fact — because of the last administration, because of the Trump administration, because of how they dealt with — dealt with COVID and the pandemic, because they didn’t have a comprehensive plan.
The President came in. He passed the American Rescue Plan, which was able to get the economy back on its feet, which was able to open up small businesses — small businesses were able to open up. Schools were able to open up.
And we understand what Americans have been feeling over the last two, three years. It’s going to take some time. We get that. It’s going to take some time. But it does not take away how we have seen the economy getting back on its feet. We actually had to fix the problem that we saw that the last administration left us.
Q But almost three years in office, inflation is up over 17 percent since President Biden came here. And you’re —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Inflation —
Q — saying that’s still Trump’s fault?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Inflation — inflation is moderating because of the actions that this per- — this President has taken. Because —
Q Doesn’t that just mean that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because —
Q — prices are going up slower?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Be —
Q They’re still high.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s going down. The prices are going down. If you look at where — example — for a perfect example — I mean, I just talked about last week how turkey prices — a turk- — costs for turkeys is going down, the cost for eggs is going down because of the actions that we’re taking, which — I just talked about supply chain and how that affects the economy. And that’s because of the President’s action that he’s taken. And if you think about gas prices, it’s down by $1.70 since its peak — since its peak because of the actions that this President has taken.
So, we understand that people are still not feeling it. We get that. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to talk about it, doesn’t mean that the President, at two o’clock, is not going to talk about how he’s lowering costs. Right?
And let’s not forget what Republicans are doing on the other side of, again, Pennsylvania Avenue. They’re trying to increase healthcare costs. They want to get rid of Medicare. They want to get rid of Social Security. That is something that we saw them try to do at the State of the Union, right? We — they do that over and over and over again. They want to make sure the millionaires and billionaires are — are actually getting the benefits, right?
And so, that’s not — that’s not our way. Our way is to build the middle class from the bottom up, middle out. And the President believes in that. He talks about it. You’re going to hear him talk about it in about an hour. And that’s going to be our focus.
I think I got to — I get to take one more.
Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thanks a lot, Karine. Has the President personally been involved today in these negotiations over the release of the hostages? This sticking point over having mothers released with their children — has the President been personally involved today in that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you heard from the Admiral, the President certainly has been kept aware. He’s put — he’s put in a very — very much a personal focus on this, on these — on — on the pause that we’re seeing — the pause that, obviously, the first — the first, kind of, deal of the pause is ending today. Now they’re going to see another two days, as you heard from my colleague.
And this is very personal for this President. He’s been very much engaged. You’ve seen us read out conversations that he’s had — right? — with — with leaders in the region, whether it’s Egypt, Jordan, and others — and, obviously, including the Prime Minister of Israel.
And so, the President has been incredibly involved in this. He was certainly briefed by — by his National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, this morning, as the Admiral stated.
And so, look, we’ve always been very clear: When it comes to American hostages being held, wrongfully detained, we take that very seriously. We want to make sure folks are going home to their families. That is important to this President. Families who are suffering, fram- — families who are wondering when — when their loved ones are coming home.
And let’s not forget, getting that all-important humanitarian aid into Gaza for the people of Gaza who need that. So, that is going to be — continue to be the focus of this President.
All right. Thanks, everybody. Hopefully, I’ll see you on the road.
1:06 P.M. EST